Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fun Playing with Food at Tartine Bistro, Rocky River, Ohio

We joined another couple tonight for dinner at the four-day-old Tartine Bistro in Rocky River, Ohio. Since this is a good 40 minute drive for us, we probably won't get there often, which is too bad - the food, wine, service and pricing is fantastic. Tartine is a venture of former Momocho Chef Nolan Konkoski and former Momocho (and Fulton Ave. Bar) FOH man John MCdonnell.

Since the restaurant has only been open a few days, please take my few criticisms with a few grains of the artisanal salt set on the table (with intensely flavorful fresh ground pepper) for each dining group.

In addition to that grain of salt - you must excuse the excess of red in the photos. Both the ceiling and the table are red, and the brick wall to my left was red. There was also red on many of the plates - which all added up to red tones that overwhelmed the red/blue setting on my camera. Perhaps Stuart will have better luck with his SLR. However, as the Japanese Iron Chefs were often quoted: "I did my best."

We proceeded to spend three hours working our way leisurely through the menu. Despite the small number of tables in the house, which were relatively full, we never felt pressured or rushed, and ordered each course separately. Service was superb.

We started with cocktails - unfortunately, I neglected to swipe a cocktail menu with all of the details. Out first drink came from the top of the cocktail list, and contained rum, melon, pineapple and delightfully complimentary flavors.

My second cocktail was a Mojito. Fantastico!

The four of us shared three appetizers.

Medjool Dates With Goat Cheese, Lardons, Port Wine

I've been on a date kick since Lolita put them on their menu and these were fantastic. Even Jan, who claims to not care for dates, enjoyed these delightful morsels. Bacon, goat cheese, port wine - what's not to like?

Brava-Style Potatoes with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Manchego Cheese

Chef Nolan has not lost his taste for spicy! These potatoes were fantastic.

Kalamata Tapenade, Chickpea Puree with Toasted Pita

This off-menu special (soon to be added to the menu, we were told) was delightful. The tapenade added fat to the tahini-less chick pea puree - a whole that exceeded the sum of its very tasty parts. Our only criticism of this dish was that the pita was a little harder than we expected.


Chick Pea Puree

By the time all of the appetizers were served, John and I were into the wine list. I started with the lovely El Burro Garnacha (Spain), $6.50/glass. It was perfect with our entire selection of appetizers. Dining companion John got the Maison Bouachon "Les"Myriades" Cote du Rhone ($7.50/glass), which also tasted light and lovely for a variety of foods.

Of course, I had to try a pizza. Our host John explained how they had recently lined the heavy duty oven with bricks, upon which the pizza (and other goodies) directly cook. I couldn't wait.

Whole Wheat Pizza with Fresh Mozzerella, Heirloom Tomato, Basil Pesto

I'm not sure why we got a wheat crust when we asked for white - but I'm glad we did. This pizza was awesome! Different than any other pizza in town, I daresay - the crust had texture, crispness and taste, and was obviously made from high quality ingredients. It was almost overwhelmed by the pesto (which was delicious, but not necessarily necessary for this pizza), served perfectly hot and flavorful - I would eat this pizza any day of the week and twice on Sunday (which I can't do, because Tartine is closed on Sunday).

I sampled the Mountain View Pinto Noir, Carneros ($8.50/glass) with my pizza, and again, I chose well.

Next, each couple ordered a salad. I moved to the Rocche Costamagna Barbera d' Alba, Piedmonte ($7.50/glass). This was my favorite wine of the evening - rich with berry and chocolate tones.

Frisee with Asparagus, Fried Organic Egg, Bacon Vinegrette

We didn't taste this, but our companions really enjoyed it.

Arugula with Apples, Dried Cherries, Candied Nuts, Balsamic Vinaigrette (Costello Black Bleu Cheese on the side at our request)

This is the second time this week I ordered a salad that comes with Bleu Cheese and ordered it on the side (Bob said "why not leave it off" - silly man), and forgot to order the dressing on the side (I hate drowned salads). And, for the second time this week, I was served a properly (as in not over) dressed salad with a side of very tasty cheese. In fact, after sharing tastes of the Costello Black with out tablemates - Bob and I finished every drop (and wished there was more) - it paired exquisitely with the apple slices, dried fruit and nuts (and also went nicely with the greens and dressing).

Bread Service

Tartine sources its breads from Breadsmith and Great Scott Bakery, but bread is served only upon request (there is no extra charge, but they do ask that you ask). This concept was recently the subject of a lively discussion on EGullet, as the cost of bread service continues to skyrocket). The succulent bread is served with roasted garlic and tasty olive oil (poured into that third container between the salt and pepper) - loved that! So, unless you're eating only pizza and/or sandwiches - ask for the bread service.

After salads and bread - three of the four of us ordered entrees (as of tonight, there are only three on the menu, though more are rumored to be coming) and dining companion John tried a "Tartine Original Sandwich," all of which are less than $9 and are served with seasonal greens.

Roasted Chicken Sandwich with Apples, Swiss Cheese, Cranberry Aoli

John gave me a taste - yum!

Roasted Chicken with Haricot Verts, Proscuitto, Burnt Juice de Citron

My taste of this very plump, moist chicken was finger licking good!

Steak au Poivre with Oven Fries, Truffle Butter

I am usually a purist about my food. I almost never would be interested in butter on a steak. But I have to admit - the truffled butter on Bob's steak was to die for all by itself - and intensified the already intense flavor of the peppered filet.

Baked Cod with Dill Crumbs, Blood Orange, Roasted Fennel, Roasted Tomato, Olive Oil

Let me start my comments with a couple of disclaimers: I am from NY and am very discriminating about fish. And I asked about the fish before I ordered it. And - even if the server had told me it was frozen fish (which she should have), I would probably have still ordered it, since we wanted to try all of the entrees. And to be fair to the server, who extolled the virtues of the prep, but didn't disclose that this was frozen fish - the prep was damn fantastic. But, to my palate, frozen fish is frozen fish. So be forearmed - if frozen doesn't bother you - enjoy this very tasty dish. And - the roasted fennel and tomato (best eaten together!) were worth the very reasonable price of this dish no matter what kind of fish was on the plate - fantastic!

So Jan asked her hubby John about dessert, and he said he was too stuffed. So said my Bob also. We all were. Hell, we'd been eating for over 2 straight hours! But - the lure of Les Desserts - ok, twist our arms.

Peach Tarte with Cinnamon Ricotta

Even though I'm not a big dessert eater - the description of this dish just sang out to me. I kid you not that we ordered one plate with four spoons - and the plate was empty in about one minute. Even better, as our host John explained to us, they had originally planned to order this item in, then Nolan (to paraphrase the play "A Chorus Line") said "I can do that" - and boy oh boy, does he! Tender pastry, fresh peaches (where did he get them this time of year?), house made caramel, fresh ricootta cheese - heaven on a plate!

Even with the "opening jitters" natural for a place with less than a week under its belt - Nolan and John have created something special enough that we spent three hours playing with their food, cocktails and wine - and we look forward to the opportunity to do so again!

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